Chapter 1: Evan’s Journey from Bad to Worse
“Your employment is terminated. I’m out of the office this morning for meetings but you should pack up your belongings by 1 p.m. today. Your last pay check will arrive in the mail.”
That was the first email waiting for Evan on Monday morning, May 29, 2000, at the office where he had worked for the last two years. ChocaChump.com, the Internet-based, chocolate home delivery company, was another dot-com whose days were numbered. About six weeks earlier, the NASDAQ had dropped more than twenty-five percent from its peak in a single week.
The tech crash would continue, and Evan’s boss, a mercurial CEO who closely managed his twenty employees, grew increasingly bitter and difficult as his company faltered. After Evan read the email terminating his employment, he recalled their curt discussion from the previous Friday.
“Tell me the real reason why you were gone so long yesterday.”
“It’s the reason I gave you: my grandma had a bad fall and needed to be taken to the hospital. She called me for help because my parents were out of town.”
“You were gone for six hours.”
“Well, I had to go to Queens, where she lives. She needed a bunch of medical tests. And I wasn’t just going to leave her alone in the hospital. She’s a seventy-five-year old widow, so I had to be there to comfort her, and help her deal with insurance forms, doctors, etc.”
“Evan, everyone’s got problems. You don’t think I have a grandma who needs me just as much? Do you think our competitors care about our grandmas? It’s war out there! And we’re losing. Things used to be much better, but our operating budget no longer covers middle-of-the-day-grandma-emergencies.”
“But this is the first time I’ve ever done that. And I told you before I left that I had a family emergency. I can come in this weekend to make up for the lost work time.”
“Yes, please do that…I’ll have to think things over.”
As he promised, Evan spent much of his Saturday making up for his time away from the office. But there was no reversing a CEO desperate to trim his payroll.
Evan decided not to tell his girlfriend, Alexandra, about the fact that he was now unemployed. He would wait until after they returned from the Puerto Rican vacation that he had promised her a month ago, so that she could fully enjoy the experience, rather than feel guilty about the expense. The quality time with her would also help him to refocus on what really mattered to him, he thought.
Hoping for a fresh and positive start the morning after he was fired, Evan turned on his home laptop and purchased the airline tickets online. He then logged into his email account, so that he could forward the trip details to Alexandra. He noticed a new email from her in his inbox.
“Evan, Hun, sorry to tell you like this over email, but my plane’s leaving soon, so I don’t have time to do this in person. I’m leaving because I really need a break. From everything. Please don’t start wondering what this means or what you did wrong or anything, because you’ve been great. And that means that I have to use that trite line about how this isn’t about you. Because it really is about me…I’m twenty-four years old and I feel like I’m losing my youth suddenly. I just want to feel young and free for a few months. And I’m tired of this city. It’s making me old. The routine, the stress, the constant competition. I just need to escape for a while. I know we were supposed to go away one of these weekends, but I need more than a weekend. Much more. I decided – in a totally spur of the moment kind of way – to go to Australia. I know this all seems crazy and surprising, but that’s how these things go when you’re young. Without planning too much. I’ll be gone for six weeks. Maybe more. I’d ask you to wait for me, but that wouldn’t be fair to either of us. And I’m just not sure we’re right for each other, even though you’re really a wonderful guy…I think a clean break would be best for both of us. By the time you read this I’ll probably be on a plane. I’m really sorry, Evan, because I know this will hurt, even though that was never my intention. Call it a crazy and selfish impulse, but I just need this change right now. You’ve always been a sweetheart and I’ll totally miss you. Postcards will follow! Kisses, Alexandra.”
Evan stared at his laptop screen, in speechless disbelief.
For the lonely three months that followed, he struggled with the loss of a job he had mostly enjoyed, and a woman he had begun to love after almost five months of dating her.
On the few occasions when he could motivate himself to go out and act like a single man again, Evan crashed and burned with every woman he approached. Julia, a sexy, thirty-two-year-old therapist, was the only exception, but there were too many issues for that prospect to go anywhere. She couldn’t resist psychoanalyzing Evan whenever they met, which he soon realized was just her way of avoiding her own doldrums. Julia was clinically depressed and desperately seeking marriage and children (which Evan didn’t want for another four or five years), so his conscience forced him to nip things in the bud, even though she seemed open to a fling with him.
Thus, Evan continued stumbling along his losing streak, learning just how much being down is not particularly appealing to anyone – especially the attractive women of New York City, clad in their heels or hipster boots, looking for a good time.
Evan Cheson was actually a charming and good-looking man. He had a full head of thick, black hair; blue eyes; an athletic, six-foot-one build; smooth, dark eyebrows; and facial features suggestive of his French-Italian ancestry. And for most of his adult life, he had been a confident and successful man, from school, to work, to women.
But several major failures in rapid-fire succession can inhibit good judgment, and thereby invite more failure. For Evan, losing a job and a girlfriend, each via email, one day after the next, was too much to avoid the absurd downward spiral that would ensue. He even avoided checking emails for a while, but that didn’t help.
On Thursday night, after a few months of fruitless rebound attempts and embarrassing faux pas with women, there was something perverse in Evan – maybe even carelessly self-destructive – that wanted to know just how laughably low he could go.
So he put on a new pair of dark slacks and a collared, button-down, sky blue shirt just snug enough to suggest his occasional gym routine. His clean look – with a dab of cologne, a gargle of mouthwash, and freshly polished leather shoes – was calculated to minimize the entrance hassle into Manhattan’s clubs. But had Evan fathomed just how hard he would end up crashing that night, he would have surely stayed home in his T-shirt and boxers.